VoIP Robocalls on the Rise

Eric Bash, associate chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, testifying at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, recently brought up the problem of VoIP enabled robocalls. “The prevalence of robocalls is on the rise,” Bash said in his testimony. “This is because of the ready availability and low cost of phone service and the software needed to make the calls, as well as the ability of callers to spoof the number from which they are calling in an attempt to disguise who they are and avoid detection.

It is no surprise, then, that robocalls are an increasing source of consumer complaints in recent years at the FCC.” Complaints about robocalls doubled between 2010 and 2012, Bash said. “While this is only a fraction of the total number of robocall complaints filed each year at various agencies, the volume at the FCC alone still speaks volumes about the extent of the problem,” he added. The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, receives more than 200,000 complaints about robocalls per month, representing the single largest type of complaint in terms of raw numbers, Bash said.

To help the address the growing problem, he said lawmakers could revise the Truth In Caller ID Act (Pub. L. No. 111-331), which prohibits caller-ID spoofing when performed by persons in the United States with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has in the past proposed broadening the scope of the act to apply to persons outside the United States when their spoofing is directed at people inside the United States; clarifying whether the existing restrictions should apply to providers of voice-over-internet protocol services that enable only outbound calls; and authorizing the FCC to regulate third-party spoofing services.

Such recommendations should still be considered going forward, Bash said. “Robocallers have the technology to place massive amounts of calls, with a great potential--this is a criminal sandbox,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the subcommittee. “The fraudsters shouldn't be the only ones taking advantage of advances in technology; we should also be using it to stop them.” In taking action on its own, the FCC last year adopted rules to require “prior express written consent” for all auto-dialed or prerecorded telemarketing calls to wireless telephone numbers and for prerecorded telemarketing calls to residential landline phone numbers. Those rules also eliminated the “established business relationship” exemption that had applied to prerecorded telemarketing calls to residential lines.